First Ascent Ventures Privacy Series: Managing Business Travel After COVID-19
By: Katharine Tomko and Noah Chaikof
This article, by First Ascent Ventures, is the second in a series that will outline relevant trends across the Privacy and Security space.
Is your business prepared for the risks associated with employee travel, post COVID-19?
If not, now is the time to consider those risks and implement plans to reduce them. No one can pinpoint the exact timing of a return to business travel, but businesses (both startup and enterprise) must have plans in place for an eventual return of the “traveling employee”. Companies will be expected to provide a ‘duty of care’ to their traveling employees, and at First Ascent Ventures we have identified the opportunities for software as a service to help meet this requirement.
Duty of Care — Why is it Important?
The legal concept of duty of care, as it relates to employee travel, presumes the employer has legal obligations to act in such a manner to avoid any risk to the employee of foreseeable injuries and damages while traveling. Beyond the legal/moral drivers, businesses have been faced with the growing challenge of employees demanding wellness infrastructure, and more broadly, an employer who they trust. The importance of trust and an employer’s commitment to their employee’s trust will help overcome healthcare concerns which will naturally be front of mind for all employees as they return to their usual travel roles.
In recent years, many large organizations have relied upon Global Security Operation Centers (GSOCs) to manage employee travel as it relates to the duty of care. However, our belief is that the COVID-19 crisis will reframe employee expectations and as a result, employers will be required to keep employee safety top of mind and directly address the related risks with detailed policies and programs they’re committed to delivering.
Why is This a Challenge for All Businesses?
For many companies, fulfilling the obligations of the duty of care requires significant administrative work. Human resources have historically been responsible for the bulk of communication and travel management but are not well-positioned to track constant changes in meetings and social events. While having a last-minute sales meeting with a potential client is a positive development, these types of activities post COVID-19 may pose serious health risks for employees. This new travel landscape will require companies to revisit their existing practices to meet the care standards that the laws (of the home country and place the employee is visiting,) and their employees require of them.
A Common Scenario
First Ascent Ventures spoke to a number of operators to create an illustrative scenario that highlights the challenges that will arise for businesses of all sizes once employee travel resumes.
Company X, a Canadian organization, has an employee who plans to lead implementation at a customer’s office in the UK. The immediate questions that must be addressed include:
Status of COVID-19: What is the latest update on COVID-19 outbreaks in the UK and does the UK permit short term travel from abroad?
Immunity/Testing Requirements: Are there any new or changing requirements that exist relating to testing or immunity certification (certificates given to those who have antibodies to the COVID-19 virus)?
Health Protocols: If the employee gets sick while traveling, what protocols should they follow? Is there a specific health provider they are directed to in case of an emergency?
Personal Protective Equipment and Hygiene Practice: Is the employee required to wear a mask on the plane? Does the employee have to wear a mask while they commute within the UK? Will the employer provide unlimited PPE for their employee for the duration of their trip? Does the employer have access to the necessary PPE?
Quarantines: What if travel restrictions or quarantines are introduced in the UK during the employee’s travel? What policies are in place to minimize business disruptions and ensure the employee’s safety?
Contact Tracing Policies: Is the UK implementing a contact tracing platform? Is the employee required to download an application and does the employee know to do this? How will the risks (centralized vs. decentralized platforms) be communicated with the employee?
A Way Forward
At First Ascent Ventures, we believe there are two options for companies who are ready to take this challenge seriously.
1. Build an In-house GSOC Capability — For Select Enterprises
These types of organizations require a full-time staff to monitor employee safety each day across multiple geographic locations. GSOC is responsible for 24-hour incident monitoring, providing constant response support, as well as ongoing analysis to identify any threats to employee assets. Internal company GSOCs are appropriate for large enterprises with significant security budgets. Our team predicts many companies will struggle economically to allocate the capital required to fund these initiatives — especially with the added complications of COVID-19 so the following is a better option;
2. Use 3rd Party Vendor to Identify Risk and Threats (GSOC as a Service) — For Select Enterprise, SME and Startup
At First Ascent Ventures, we predict most companies will begin seeking software vendors to provide the support needed to confidently have their employees resume corporate travel. We believe employers will value software with the ability to analyze the risks of travel to a destination, including the state of quarantines, vaccination requirements, political unrest, and more. We predict these risk management tools, along with a travel planning suite, will be ‘must-have’ software for employers that want to resume travel. The need for these services will likely serve as a catalyst for the emergence of new travel-tech with industry incumbents and new startups seeking to fulfill the needs of small businesses.
The technology already currently exists to track employees. For example, tracking locations using a mobile device is possible through Mobile Device Management (MDM). However, many of these current solutions are likely a step too far for most organization’s privacy policies — are employees willing to be tracked so closely and what will companies do with that information when they have it? A more elegant alternative is integrating a solution into a travel booking system thus removing the conflict of owning location data, which ultimately is a more ethical choice.
Here is a list of steps different stakeholders must take to prepare for the evolution that will take place in business travel:
Startups and SMEs: As a company, you must define your understanding of the duty of care and begin analyzing the available alternatives (software and traditional) to satisfy the needs and expectations of your employees. It is very likely your investors will expect executives to produce well thought out policies (similar to a business continuity plan) to address travel related risks and ensure employee safety and morale.
Investors: Consider the opportunities available in the travel management space for new software/services provided by startups or existing incumbents expanding their current travel offerings.
Trust is essential to the efficacy of any travel plan, given employees will be required to share data, especially location data. At First Ascent Ventures we encourage and advocate for ethical, thoughtful, and safe use of all data, hence this piece and our first Medium post. In a climate of concern about the use of data we encourage you all to take the challenge of business travel seriously, and harness the opportunity it presents to get clear on how you manage your traveling employees in the best interest of your team and your business.
First Ascent Ventures — Who We Are And Behind the Name
First Ascent Ventures was founded in 2015 and is a Toronto based VC fund that invests in emerging Canadian and U.S.-based technology companies that are building the next generation of disruptive, enterprise B2B software. www.firstascent.vc
In mountaineering, a first ascent is the first successful, documented summit of a mountain by an unclimbed route. First ascents are notable because they entail genuine exploration, with greater risks, challenges, and recognition than climbing a route pioneered by others. This is not dissimilar to the challenges and risks involved in building a start-up technology company.
Please reach out to Noah@firstascent.vc to collaborate with us.